Taking on a business mentor can be a big decision. A business mentor doesn’t just hold you accountable for achieving your business goals. Ideally, through their input and modelling, they will also have a big influence on your behaviour.
After all, the word mentor comes from the name of an ancient fictional guide whose narrative purpose was to impart wisdom and share knowledge with the hero’s son.
By definition, the right mentor for you is someone who has skills or experience that you don’t have. The odds are though, that you haven’t worked with a professional business mentor before.
Insider’s Guide to Business Mentors
So what should you expect? My Insider’s Guide to Business Mentors will give you a critical insight into what your business mentor is thinking.
Here’s the inside gossip on what you should know about your mentor. Hopefully, it will destroy a few myths, help you understand how mentors feel – and most importantly, spur you on to getting the right mentor for you!
Mentors are not only for the young
Over 40? Think you know it all? Think again. Sure, the younger you are, the more likely it is that you can benefit from a mentor, simply because they will have more experience than you. But unless you decide to stop learning, you can benefit from a mentor at any age.
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support this. What the research shows is that, rather than increasing mentee age excluding mentorship, it changes the nature of the mentoring and the subject matter. Younger mentees tend to have longer mentor engagements that focus on broader life and career issues compared to older mentees.
Older mentees – say over age 40 – tend to get better value from mentoring that is based on a particular skill or issue (for example, improving business profitability).
The corollary of this is that your mentor does not have to be older than you. More important than age is the purpose of having a mentor (see below). If you are after expertise from your mentor, then their age is almost irrelevant. It matters more that they can communicate and relate to you, not their age.
As a, ahem, slightly older person myself, I am super excited about all the young talent that is coming through our universities and who get on Youtube and other channels to share their knowledge. I have learned more this year from people under the age of 30 than I have over.
Bottom line: keep your mind open to the benefits of a mentor, whatever your age.
A mentor is not your parent
Too often, mentees expect that their mentor will come in simply whisk away their problems, or provide a silver bullet that will fix everything. At times when I hear what people’s expectations of their mentors are, especially from younger people, it seems that they actually need a parent, not a mentor.
Which is to say, your business mentor – unlike a parent – cannot take your responsibility away from you.
It’s totally ok and natural if you, as a mentee, want to project parent-like attributes on us. It’s to be expected, especially if there is a reasonable age difference.
Never forget that ultimately, the responsibility for outcomes is yours. You can’t abrogate these to ‘Mom’ or ‘Dad’.
That said – I know personally that I will seek to build a close enough relationship with my mentees so that I can, without any loss of respect, nag, cajole and berate where this is needed! So, if you are my mentee, I might sound like a father sometimes, but I promise I will never tell you to go clean your room!
Mentors love being challenged
It is inherent that a business mentor will challenge you. That’s what we get paid for.
An important Insider’s Guide tip though: there are few things that mentors like better than to have their mentee challenge them.
We love it when a protege presents us with a problem that we don’t have a ready answer to.
Why? No mentor will have all the answers.
So when we are challenged, it gives us an opportunity to model the behaviour required to resolve the challenge. It allows us to work constructively with you to demonstrate the process by which you can uncover the answer.
This doesn’t mean simply googling it. It means developing a problem-solving process for the enquiry that is congruent with your business goals and personal values.
It is inherent that a business mentor will challenge you. That is what we get paid for. An important Insider's Guide tip: there are few things that mentors like better than to have their mentee challenge them.
Pay your mentor
I remember once going to see my doctor. She diagnosed my problem, gave me a prescription, it was everything I expected. But then I said ‘ look, I’m just starting in business, we are operating at a loss. Would it be ok if I didn’t pay you?’
Of course, that is fictional, but it illustrates my point. The right business mentor for you will be worth their weight in gold, so they should be paid. After all, what did it cost them to get the expertise and wisdom such that they become valuable to you?
That there is even an expectation that business mentoring can be free stems from the essence of altruism inherent in mentoring. In my experience, in business, you get what you pay for. Free mentoring is probably no exception for this rule.
There are times and places for free mentoring, I get that. In business though, you will value what you pay for. There are many other compelling arguments for paying for your mentor if you need further convincing.
Still, like many other professions, many mentors do have a pro bono program or will agree to at least a free session if you make a good case. I know I do – if you are reading this, and can’t afford a mentor, contact me and let’s talk.
Decide what sort of a mentor you need
Just because someone is a good mentor, doesn’t mean that they are the right mentor for you.
That might seem obvious, yet it amazes me the number of people that simply ‘want a mentor’ without knowing exactly what they need a mentor for. You need to be specific.
As a business mentor, I promise you, we love it when people know why they need a mentor, and what attributes they have. I’d rather decline a job that I wasn’t suited for than get hired and discover I’m the wrong fit. And any mentor worth their salt would feel the same.
Plus, most mentors know other mentors. If we aren’t the right person to mentor you, we may know who is. We like referring people to the right mentor because we see that as part of our professional obligation. We want you to have a positive mentoring experience, even if it isn’t with us.
Mentors have a lifespan
A mentor relationship is one where you should know when it finishes before it begins.
As a business mentor, I want to be sure that I am continuing to add value for as long as I work with my mentee. If I do my job right, I should put myself out of a job.
A business mentor should work exactly like other service providers – you have a job to do and a timeframe within which to do it. Just as a mentor holds you accountable for your actions, so a fixed term engagement holds a mentor accountable to deliver value.
The last thing I want is an open-ended engagement. I want to add value, not get a sinecure.
In my experience, you should set a timeframe for the business mentoring engagement of between three to twelve months.
Of course, a lot of people will disagree with me on this. Fair enough.
My belief isn’t as cold-blooded as it may sound, nor does it mean you can’t develop a strong relationship. There is nothing to stop both of you re-assessing at the end and even renewing. This happens after. Equally, it is sometimes a good idea to take a break before reuniting to take on the next challenge.
My point is this – if your mentor doesn’t offer this, don’t be afraid to put a timeframe on the engagement.
OK – so now you have the Insider’s Gude to business mentors. My secrets are laid bare.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – agree or disagree?
You can contact me here – I can’t wait to hear your story!